How to Taste Wine
The Art of Wine Tasting
Sometimes people assume that wine tasting is simply smelling, sipping and swallowing – many are amazed to find that it’s actually a bit more. Wine tasting is more of an art, an art that is used to distinguish the complex nuances of a fine wine. Wine can be as simple as a tasty drink, or an experience that will be etched into your memory for a lifetime.
The art of wine tasting is indeed an art. Wine tasters do, however, follow some general guidelines and techniques that help them judge the quality of a wine. These techniques can help you bring the most out of your wine tasting experience.
Color and Clarity
The first step in evaluating a wine is to look at the color and clarity of the wine in the glass. If possible, use clear, good quality stemware that will allow you swirl, sniff and see the wine clearly. You can tell quite a bit about a wine from the color and clarity. Is the color vibrant, pale, opaque or cloudy?
The color and clarity of a wine do not give you the entire picture of what the quality of a wine will be. It is the beginning of a journey and part of the entire package which adds or detracts from the overall quality. For example, you may see that a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir has a slight cloudy quality to it, which you may initially interpret as a flaw. But in reality, the lack of clarity may be the result of the wine being unfiltered and unfined, techniques often employed to allow the full flavors and complexity to come through. Often times, these “cloudy” wines are more interesting than the filtered clear wines. But you should notice it and be aware of it.
The Nose – Aroma Profile
Next, is the smell, which you should do in two steps. After swirling the wine vigorously in the glass for a good 30 seconds, start by slowly inhaling through your nose about 4-6 inches from the glass slowly bringing it closer to your nose until the your nose is well within the glass. Get a sense of the flow of aromas and try to identify as many aromas as you can. This is one of the reasons you want to use good stemware if possible, to allow the aromas to fully expose themselves.
After thinking about what you just smelled for a minute or two, take another deep inhale of aromas and see if you can identify the same or additional nuances. Experienced wine tasters prefer to sit back a bit and think about the smell before they actually taste the wine.
What many fail to realize, is that over 75% of our taste is directly related to our sense of smell. Wine tasters all over the world will tell you that tasting wine is more about a sense of smell than the actual taste buds.
The Taste – Flavor Profile
Now for the taste. To properly taste the wine, you should first take a sip, swish it around in your mouth, sometimes even taking in some air while swishing, and then swallow, or spit (yes you’re allowed to spit without seeming barbaric). Once you swish the wine around in your mouth, you will often notice that the nuances you detected in the aromas are also present on your palate.
Pay attention to the flavors as they flow across your palate (tongue) from entry over the mid-palate, on the sides of you tongue, all the way through to the finish swallowing. More than likely you will notice additional flavors to the ones you originally smelled. After swallowing, notice the lingering flavors that you can still taste, and how long they last.
Then rinse and repeat; or rather…observe, swirl, sniff, swish and swallow!
Once you have looked closely at the wine, examined its aromas, and finally tasted it, you will have an overall impression of the wine and make a judgment as to its quality. Be aware that a wine will “open up” and evolve the longer the bottle is opened and exposed to air.
Whether or not you like a wine is one thing, but quality wines all have certain characteristics specific to each varietal. They also have very few or no flaws, such as flavors or nuances that seem disjointed or out of place.
As with all things in life, the more you taste wine the better you will get at distinguishing the unique aromas, flavors and nuances. Continuing on this journey will also help you identify your palate and find the things you enjoy in the various varieties.
Above All Else, Have Fun And Enjoy Your Wine Journey!
Storing Wine Properly
Seasoned wine lovers know that storing wine properly is one of the most critical steps to preserving, and even enhancing the quality of the wine. Keep in mind these simple yet important principles when considering how your wines will be stored. These principles can be broken down into just 3 categories: short term storage, long term storage, and storing (or saving) wines that have already been opened.
Short Term Storage:
This is wine you will consume within 6 months. These may be bottles that you just picked up at your local wine shop or store and will be consumed in the near future, or bottles that have been pulled from longer storage to have on hand for drinking within the next few months The closer you can duplicate the conditions required for long term storage, the better. However, in many situations, keeping the wines in an insulated box in an interior closet, (not adjacent to exterior walls) is a satisfactory solution unless the closet experiences extreme temperature fluctuations.
Keep the bottles stored so that:
- the cork stays moist – on its side
- the wines are at the lowest stable temperature possible – ideally below 60 degrees
- the location is free of vibration
- the location is dark most of the time
- the location is not a storage area for other items that have a strong odor
Those little 9 bottle racks that end up on top of the refrigerator is something to be avoided; it’s hot, close to the light and vibrates from the refrigerator compressor.
Long Term Storage:
This is wine that you will age for more than 6 months before consumption. A good storage location for wine is generally dark, is free of vibration, has high humidity and has a low stable temperature.
Generally accepted ‘ideal’ conditions are as close to 55 degrees farenheit as possible, and 70 percent humidity or higher. The high humidity is important because it keeps the corks from drying and minimizes evaporation. The only problem with even higher levels of humidity is that it brings on growth of mold on the labels or the loosening of labels that have water soluble glue. With regard to light, most modern bottles have ultraviolet filters built into the glass that help protect the contents from most of the effects of UV rays. Despite the filters in the glass, long term storage can still allow enough rays in to create a condition in the wine that is referred to as “light struck”. The result is that the wine picks up the taste and smell of wet cardboard, or may smell and taste as if they are “corked”. This is especially noticeable in delicate white wines and sparkling wines. The condition can be created by putting a bottle of champagne near a fluorescent light for a month. Regular or constant vibrations from pumps, motors or generators should be avoided since the vibrations they cause are thought to negatively affect the evolution of the wines. One additional factor to avoid is storing other items with very strong odors near the wine. There have been many reports of wines picking up the aromas of items stored nearby.
Options to Wine Cellars
If you do not have a suitable wine cellar, there are many types of ‘wine refrigerators’ that will work as well. They differ from common refrigerators in that they work at higher temperatures (50-65 degree range) and they do not remove humidity from the air. There are kits available that will convert regular refrigerators into suitable wine storage units, but you would be well advised to spend a little extra money and spring for unit designed to store wine, especially if you store expensive wines.
Storing After Opening:
So what do you do if you just want a glass or two but still have half the bottle left? There are many methods for prolonging the life of an opened bottle of table wine, but even the best can only slow the degradation process of the wine. These methods are for still table wines. Sparkling wines and fortified dessert wines have different characteristics and requirements. Gas Systems: Sparging the bottle with a gas (nitrogen or argon) can be very effective for periods of a few days. I’ve never known anyone who actually used a gas system over a long period of time. You will be able to find as many opinions as people you ask on the effectiveness of gassing and opened bottle of wine. If you do elect to try such a system, stay away from carbon dioxide since it will mix into solution with the wine. Vacu-vin: An item came on the market a few years ago called a Vacu-vin. This consists of rubber bottle stoppers that hold a weak vacuum created by a hand pump that comes with the system. While some people swear by them, there are complaints that wines treated with a Vacu-vin seem ‘stripped’ of aromas and flavor. They actually create a lower pressure environment instead of an actual vacuum. This means they don’t remove all the oxygen and oxidation of the wine will still occur. Again, it will work to sustain the wine for a period of 1-2 days for red wines, and about a week for white wines (which should be refrigerated after opened, and allowed to warm for about a half hour to an hour before serving). Wine is a food product and will change over time. To ensure that you receive the best quality and most pleasure from you wines, carefully consider how and where you store them. It’s not an exact science, and as with some many other aspects relating to wine “trial and error” will be the best way to determine what works best for you. To minimize the “casualties”, keep the principles discussed here in mind. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send us an email. Cheers, The Wine Riff